Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Serious Sci Fi: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Many of you have difficulty suspending disbelief long enough to believe that one can time travel (accurately) by using a space vessel to "slingshot" around the sun. Perhaps, due to the fact that my dad raised us on Star Trek, it's easier for me to deal with this uncritically. Perhaps I fear the consequences of closing minds to, as Mulder would say, "extreme possibilities." I do have a problem with Star Trek IV, however. If you guessed that it involves Mr. Spock mind-melding with a whale then you've guessed wrong. My problem has to do with the actions of Scotty in the above divide and conquer situation, or what I call the Montgomery Scott Paradox.
Mr. Scott's job, in preparation for saving the whales, is to acquire panels of ultra-thick acrylic glass which will be used to construct water tanks in the ship's cargo bay strong enough to transport two humpback whales and tons of water. Since Mr. Scott does not have enough money - 23rd-century economics is apparently drastically different from 20th century economics - he gives Dr. Nichols of Plexicorp the chemical formula for transparent aluminum in exchange for several sheets of plexiglass. Dr. Leonard McCoy, always concerned with the ethical implications of peoples' actions, censures Mr. Scott for giving Nichols the formula and potentially changing the future with possibly dire consequences. Mr. Scott brushes off the accusation humorously, responding, "How do you know he didn't invent the thing?" According to the novelization of the film, Dr. Nichols did, in fact, invent transparent aluminum.
The Montgomery Scott Paradox is better known as the predestination paradox. (Apparently people talked about this paradox prior to Star Trek IV. All I know is that I sure as heck didn't...) If Montgomery Scott's knowledge ultimately originates in the knowledge of Dr. Nichols, and the knowledge of Dr. Nichols originally comes from Montgomery Scott (as depicted in the film), then the result is an infinite loop in which the knowledge doesn't have any true origin. There is no original idea, no inception, only the transmission of an idea that technically should not exist. Assuming that only one timeline / dimension / reality exists (which we technically can't do after the events of J.J. Abrams's Star Trek), this exchange of knowledge without origin cannot happen.
The only way out, according to my imagination, is through multiverse theory, though the intermingling of tangent universes and the propagation of knowledge across dimensions. Even with the help of multiverse theory, however, I have trouble coming up with a concise account of how one can solve this paradox. The Montgomery Scott paradox from Star Trek IV remains, to this interpreter at least, a serious difficulty.
(If anyone can provide an acocunt of how to resolve this paradox, please feel free to make me look like a fool. I would love to learn from your science / sci-fi expertise.)